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Detailing / Sales and marketing

Building the dealer + vendor relationship through technology

The story of how one detailer found success with his customer base.

June 23, 2014
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In 1994 I was 18 years old working in my father’s South Miami gas station. The car dealer down the street was busting at the seams. They had outgrown their detail department and were looking for help to clean up some old cars that were headed to the auction. Through a friend, they sent me a couple cars to clean at my dad’s station. This was the first time I had earned a real paycheck so I made sure I cleaned each car to the best of my ability which resulted in more cars headed my way.

A detailer is born

I quickly realized that I could make some money cleaning cars and ultimately recruited one of my buddies to help after school while keeping a small percentage for each car he cleaned. As the volume increased, the logistics of transporting the cars to my dad’s station was becoming a challenge for the dealership so we began working onsite from a half-standing tent behind the dealership, ultimately creating my company, Ocean Detailing USA (ODU).

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Most dealers have used, currently use or at least understand the use of a sublet company to clean their cars. The benefits of using sublet companies aren’t new to the industry, but having a great relationship with their sublet vendor is. When using a traditional sublet vendor, the logistics of communication, paperwork and invoicing can be enough to pull your hair out from both sides especially for the accounting departments. Many times the challenges outweigh the benefits so dealers pay substantially more overall to keep it in-house.

A demanding business flourishes

From 1996 to 2010, ODU grew to 12 dealerships and seemed to stall every time I added a new location. My days were spent traveling to my stores, picking up boxes of paperwork and taking them home to try to connect the dots between the unexplainable hand written dealer purchase orders (POs), hand written internal invoices stapled to those POs, chasing receivables and shielding phone calls from upset dealer personnel or worker payroll issues. Through the traditional ways, I just couldn’t grow or give the customer service I needed to provide to the dealers to separate myself from my competition. To make matters worse, through the 90s, companies like mine were becoming seemingly more common and margins were becoming non-existent.

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I found myself competing in my market with dozens of companies that did the same thing I did and had the same exact challenges. We were all small business-people with minimal business backgrounds. As we grew, we were all providing equally poor service and paperwork nightmares for the dealers. Worse yet, we were all competing for business by dropping the prices in the market in an attempt to gain accounts. Since we all provided the same service, trying to say, “I have a faster buffer,” didn’t’ work as a closing line. Ultimately I was working harder and barely breaking even after I paid Uncle Sam.

Technology saves the day

I knew if I wanted to grow or continue in this industry, I needed to do something different but didn’t know what that was. About that time, one of my largest dealers approached me voicing his frustrations with the communication and paperwork from the dealer’s perspective and saying the same thing, “Something’s got to change.” He had gone through many detail companies and knew he had minimal options. He had friends in the technology world and we agreed to explore creating a basic shared system in which our companies communicate together.

Through many conversations and meetings with his technology friends we all realized this was a huge gap in the market. Soon after, a company started to build a simple shared workflow system that connects dealers with their sublet vendors. The system was built with the mindset of being a benefit to both ODU and the dealer. We realized that if it wasn’t simple to use and didn’t provide a solution for both sides, one side wouldn’t see benefit for using it thus making it useless.

The part of ODU that was growing rapidly at that time was my low price hourly staffing services such as porters, valets, service wash line, shuttle drivers and document filing/scanning. The ability for a dealer to increase and decrease head count is challenging. Most dealers can’t just hire and fire as they want. There is too large of an HR presence and fear of lawsuits in 2014. A company like mine can save a volume dealer hundreds of thousands of dollars each year through labor costs, employee benefits, cleaning supplies, vehicle damage and staffing flexibility. I realized that if I could help create a shared system between my company and the dealer that could handle all areas of my business, it would be a huge competitive advantage for me.

I incorporated a computer-based program to help me. The trust issue of a “computer” tracking money and payroll was a big issue for everyone. There were huge challenges when we started and the users struggled to learn something new, but I was too far in to turn back.

Ease of management

Eventually, we were able to fine tune the system which allows the sublet vendor and each dealer to communicate in real time and provide shared accounting invoicing and timesheet services. My workers clock in and out of the shared system so that the dealer can monitor my hourly worker time clock expense along with each individual detail job they request in real time. Invoices are automatically sent electronically back to the requestor upon completion and POs are entered when required. We also get exportable invoice reports that can be uploaded into the dealer management systems (DMS) which matches the same data I export for my payroll and accounts receivable purposes. This saves the manual entry of invoices for both sides and allows the ability to track services on each vehicle individually.

At many stores, I no longer even send monthly invoices to the dealers; they pull their own reports on their time. The reconciliation and duplicate invoice issues have gone away. Vehicles are cleaned in the right order regardless of which department they’re requested from and dealer revenues increase due to the retail service sales portion of the system. Dealership team members can check the status of their vehicles from their desk or smartphone and save the frustrating phone calls and foot traffic, allowing them more time with their guests.

How things stand today

Fast forward to 2014, ODU just opened its 48th sublet dealership detailing and staffing operation in Florida (34 new dealers in three years) and have installs planned for each month this year.

With cloud based monitoring, I can shift workers from store to store when a spike occurs before the dealers know there is a delay. Some of my new partners are the world’s largest Lexus dealer, multiple high line dealers and the largest dealer groups in the country. I can now focus on providing first class workers and world class personalized service instead of chasing paperwork. ODU has become a true partner with my dealer. Through technology, we have created a better world to co-exist.

Russell Grande is the president and owner of Ocean Detailing USA and can be reached at russellg@oceandetail.com or by calling 786-251-5802. For more information, you can visit his website at www.oceandetailingusa.com.